The Religious Impulse
Hi – I’m reading “Heresies: Against Progress And Other Illusions” by John Gray and wanted to share this quote with you and a few thoughts I have on it. Gray is an English public intellectual and is an unbeliever. I say this up front to simply refute the claim of bias by the atheistic community.
Here is Gray’s quote “For many, the promises of religion lack credibility; but the fear that inspires them has not gone away, and secular thinkers have turned to a belief in progress that is further removed from the basic facts of human life than any religious myth”.
“Traditional religion is in retreat but it has not been replaced by rationality. Modern societies are full of occult and millenarian cults. They abound in new, short-lived religions, ‘flickering and fading’, as J.G. Ballard has put it, ‘like off-peak commercials’.”
The first thing that I would like to point out is the fact that man seems to be Homo religious in his very nature, i.e., he is not taught to be religious, he is hardwired to be religious. To say that he is taught religion is to use the word religion in its most narrow sense. If we use it in a broad sense of the word religion, let’s say the concept of ultimate concern, it becomes easy to see that man is by his very nature religious. It is easy to see how ones ultimate concern can slip in to being an idol and become ones religion.
Many questions could be raised when Gray speaks about rationality taking the place of religion. Could we not talk about the myth that humanity is rational? Could anyone make the claim that humans on the whole are rational? Could you not say that in some groups, that rationality is their ultimate concern and therefore their religion? Could it be that religion is necessary for one to be rational? It seems to me that as a culture loses its religious, it also loses its ability to reason. The decay and the downfall of many cultures seem to follow their loss of faith in their gods, which results in them being plunged into the dark ages. In the west this has held true, we first lost faith in God and it was not long before we began to question reason. (note the positivists and idealist movement of the past, and now the post modern movement of today).
Another question that Gray’s remarks resurrect, is the question of the fears that he mentioned as the cause, or sources of religion. Here we need to ask a number of questions. The most basic is, are the fears real? What about the fear of death? First of all death is real. All men must die. The next question that arises would be, is the fear of death rational? My answer is absolutely yes. We are an organism that from the very beginning of our existence has been programmed to resist death and strive to stay alive and to live. Therefore the fear of death is natural to the species. Fear is part of the evolution programming and is implanted in the human psyche. To tell people that the fear of death is irrational is counter intuitive. We are programmed to fear anything that threatens our life. You could say that it is natural to fear death and anything that threatens our organic existence. Still, another huge question. Is there something for the masses of men better than traditional religion, especially Christianity to deal with these fears? Could it be that the Creator programmed humans to seek life and fear death? Seeing that God is the living God or the God of life, it would seem right for him to plant the survival impulse into every creature. In this, the survival impulse is an impulse from God and towards God.
I say all this to point out that faith with reason is the only practical way to approach reality. Faith in Christ gives people the authority and courage to face the big questions of life. Questions like, who am I, what is my purpose and where am I going? Faith in Christ also destroys the idol of reason, taking it off its throne and restores it to its rightful place as a gift from God, a tool to help us structure our lives and to help us find truth.